Thursday, 19 July 2018

Nature Journals - getting started

Creating a Nature Journal is a great way to deepen your nature connection. Whether you want to record what you see on a nature walk, celebrate nature's beauty, or keep track of what you've learned about nature - there's a nature journal format to suit your purpose. If you look on Pinterest at other people's Nature Journals you might think Nature Journals are just for artists, but your observations are unique and can be conveyed in words as well as pictures.
Some of my Nature Journals
A Nature Diary is a good way to get started writing a Nature Journal. That's how I began. I wrote down places I went walking or tramping, and listed things I saw that interested me. After awhile, I began adding in more details, names of plants I was learning from other people or facts I'd found in reference books.

Some of my Nature Journals and notebooks
You can use any kind of notebook or exercise book for this.  I prefer books with lines or squares as I find it hard to keep my writing tidy! But if you like to draw a lot of pictures you might prefer blank pages. Some books alternate lined and blank pages and these are ideal for many people.

It's important to write down the date and the place that you see something, but other details such as time of day, weather and tides can be important too. Now I can go back through my diaries and find facts, like when I first heard a shining cuckoo each spring (the earliest was 26 September) or where and when a good place to see kohekohe flowering might be.

I also write down things that surprised me: seeing 40 oyster catchers one morning in a field, finding a dead gannet on the beach, seeing a nocturnal gecko on the outside of a window in the early morning.

Spending time drawing plants or animals (although these often move too fast for my pencil) can help me pay attention to details or features. This might help me identify the plant more easily next time or can help me compare it with other plants that I know well. Photography is good too. Often you will see something in the photo that you might not have spotted at the time. For example, the blue on a female copper butterfly wing or the greenish feet of a reef heron.

I like to use diagrams, which can often convey ideas better than words.
Diagram of the 800m climb up to Jumbo Hut
noting some of the changes in vegetation 
Sometimes I add in a pressed leaf or flower that I've collected from my garden. If you want to do this make sure you have permission to take the leaf or flower and don't take too many. Read here for tips and ethics of collecting plants.

I usually write in my journal after I return home.  I don't want to risk getting my Nature Journal wet and usually I'm not too keen on carrying something heavy.  But sometimes I need to record details when I see them, so I take a waterproof notebook with me to record what I see and hear. These notebooks are quite expensive so I think they are best for recording scientific data such as a recording a bird translocation or lizard monitoring.
Waterproof notebook for recording scientific data
My Nature Journal reminds me of where I've been and what I've seen, as well as a few interesting records. I pick some of them to write about in this blog, click on the Nature Journal tab above to see these.
If you like the idea of an online Nature Journal, consider using iNaturalistNZ (previously called called Nature Watch NZ). This is a great place to post photos and get help with identification, your profile also has a Journal section which can link to your online photo observations. 
There are no right or wrong way to create a Nature Journal. What will you include in your Nature Journal? Have fun!

More Nature Journal ideas
  • Read my blogpost about Nature Journals for children and download a free Nature Journal template for children here
  • Create a family Nature Journal about your garden or places you visit together
  • Find out about Nature Journal workshops or activities at your local Botanical Garden (I've linked to the events page of Auckland Botanic Gardens as an example).
  • For beginners and children A New Zealand Nature Journal by Sandra Morris includes illustration and topic ideas
  • Have fun learning to draw with Draw New Zealand Birds by Heather Arnold